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Boston Capital

Private funds for inauguration bash a bad habit

I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but beware of any statement from a politician that begins with the word “honestly.”

“Honestly,” Mayor Martin Walsh told the Globe’s Andrew Ryan in Monday’s paper, “if you asked me today to name five people who gave money for my inauguration, I couldn’t tell you.”

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He went on in the same paragraph to declare this a “true story.”

So there you go. The mayor was talking about citizens who volunteered to send in $1.3 million for the purpose of throwing a really big party to celebrate, well, the mayor. Some of the most generous corporate citizens were familiar names, like Liberty Mutual, Comcast Corp., Related Beal, Bank of America, and Boston University — just to name five.

Perhaps the mayor really didn’t know
the names of big donors who helped fund his inauguration, as well as a transition process that occurred before he took office. But rest assured, those leading donors were not confused about why they had their checkbooks out.

The inauguration gala contribution is as close at it gets to a sure thing for companies that do business with government and donate money to politicians. It’s like betting on a horse after the race has been run.

A huge party bankrolled by organizations that have a lot riding on good relations with City Hall is one thing. Private funding for the mayor’s transition process — though it totaled $133,600, a relatively small amount of money — was in some ways just as troubling. That process involved a series of meetings organized to plan the way city government would be run once Walsh took power.

The inauguration gala contribution is as close at it gets to a sure thing for companies . . . It’s like betting on a horse after the race has been run.

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To be fair to the mayor, he did not invent the concept of the big-ticket, privately funded inauguration blowout and related expenses. Many other politicians have already blazed this dubious trail.

Governor Deval Patrick set the statewide standard seven years ago when he raised $1.9 million for an inaugural ball at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, an outdoor swearing-in on the State House steps, and other celebrations across the state. Patrick scaled back plans for his reelection celebration and raised a more modest $700,000 the second time around.

Privately funded inauguration events were conceived long ago as a kind of responsible-government fiction — built on the notion that billing taxpayers for elaborate celebrations of elected officials would be wrong. But they created yet another opportunity for big money to influence public policy. There’s nothing responsible about that.

.   .   .

Martha Coakley, the attorney general and gubernatorial candidate, struck a very big deal Monday with her longtime investigative target, the medical giant Partners HealthCare. She effectively made peace after years of criticism for the organization that oversees hospitals, including Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s in Boston.

Coakley complained relentlessly about the marketing clout Partners wielded and the expensive impact the chain had on medical costs in Massachusetts. Along with the US Justice Department, she mulled antitrust charges to block a Partners plan to take over South Shore Hospital in Weymouth.

Now she’s settling with Partners, permitting an important merger in return for a series of significant economic concessions that will remain in effect for as long as a decade.

I don’t know what would have happened
if Coakley had gone to court to block that deal. Antitrust cases have mixed track records and can drag on forever. An eventual settlement may have been no better than the deal signed Monday.

Here’s one thing I do know: A settlement is a far better thing to carry around over the next five months of campaigning.

The deal is a tangible accomplishment, and it makes peace with a lot of influential people. Who knows, they may even turn out to be useful campaign supporters from the medical world.

Then Steward Health Care’s Ralph de la Torre will have some real company.

Steven Syre is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at syre@globe.com.
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